If you go to venture capitalist Blake Masters’s Twitter feed, you can still see the ad he posted in November 2021 as he first began his campaign for the Republican nomination for Senate in Arizona. It begins unequivocally, with Masters speaking to the camera: “I think Trump won in 2020.”
His flat assertion almost certainly contributed to Donald Trump’s eventual endorsement of Masters, which probably contributed to his primary win. But the sentiment, that Trump won, carries a different tone in the general election — and it came up in the first general election debate including Masters and incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D).
“Is Joe Biden the legitimately elected president of the United States?” moderator Ted Simons asked.
“Joe Biden is absolutely the president,” Masters replied. “I mean, my gosh, have you seen the gas prices lately?”
This pivot — from “was his election legitimate” to “is he president” — is a hoary one and one that didn’t fool Simons. But it was appropriate as an introduction to the subject as Masters then proceeded to try to simultaneously suggest that elections were imperiled by fraud, deny that 2020 was derailed by fraud and elevate a dishonest alternate theory for how the election was stolen from Trump.
It was, in short, a useful encapsulation of how Republicans want to keep telling their base that the election was suspect even as they try to pretend that they’re simply defending elections.
Simons responded to Masters as you would expect, highlighting the word “legitimate” in his question.
“I’m not trying to trick you,” Masters said, which is true since he was trying to trick viewers. “He’s duly sworn and certified. He’s the legitimate president, he’s in the White House — unfortunately for all of us, right?”
This admission that he was “legitimate” — qualified as it was by the mechanisms that installed Biden in the White House — was celebrated as a retreat from his hardline rejection of the election results. But it was quickly followed by a reiteration of false claims about what happened in 2020.
“Now, how did he get there? Okay. Let’s talk about that,” Masters said. “I think it’s a problem that the FBI forced Facebook — they pressured Facebook and other big tech companies to censor true information about Hunter Biden’s crimes in the weeks before the 2020 election. And so millions of Americans didn’t get to read about that.”
First of all, this is nonsense. Masters is elevating an incorrect narrative about an October 2020 story from the New York Post centered on a laptop reportedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Both Facebook and Twitter limited how broadly the story could be shared on their platforms out of concern — expressed by former members of the intelligence community — that it might be an effort by Russia to influence the 2020 election as it had influenced the one in 2016.
In a recent interview with Joe Rogan, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook had warned the company that it was expecting a similar move that year and that Facebook determined that the Post story “fit that pattern.” In statements, both the FBI and Meta denied that the bureau had requested any restrictions on the laptop story. But in the right-wing conversational bubble, the Zuckerberg explanation (a fairly obvious one, in fact) became an admission.
Masters then looped the media into his depiction of what happened, claiming the media “lied to us” about the story. This, too, is an exaggeration. The media did report on the intelligence-community claims, but didn’t restrict coverage of the story. The ability to verify what the New York Post reported was limited by the inaccessibility of the material, which wasn’t shared. The Washington Post and other outlets did write about it. And when we got a copy of the material (earlier this year), we dug into it.
What Masters is doing is nothing more complicated than alleging a broad conspiracy incorporating various actors that the right hates to stoke the idea that the election results were dubious.
“I suspect that if the FBI didn’t work with Big Tech and Big Media to censor the Hunter Biden crime story,” he said when Simons asked if the election had been “rigged” in any way: “Yeah, I suspect that changed a lot of people’s votes.”
Beyond the indefensibility of his conspiracy theory and beyond the fact that the election was obviously not “rigged,” notice that his assertion is unfalsifiable. He just “suspects” that a lot of votes were changed, as though it was impossible to read the New York Post’s report — Hunter Biden generated half as much search interest in mid-October 2020 as did Joe Biden himself — and as though the meta-story about limiting the reach of the Post’s report didn’t itself get wide coverage. The idea that a significant number of Biden voters, a large percentage of whom turned out to vote to oust Trump, were unaware of the controversy and would have changed their minds about it is simply not credible.
But if you want to both tap into anger about the election and remain at a distance from the falsifiable (and falsified) claims of fraud, this is the route you take. This is why this route exists! In the aftermath of Trump’s 2020 loss, people who wanted to stay close to his base but didn’t want to align with the more deranged claims about fraud settled on this “well, the system worked against him” line as a middle ground.
During the debate, Masters was asked if there was actual voter fraud, and in fact, he admitted there hadn’t been. And yet his purported solutions to ensure “common-sense election integrity,” as he put it, focused on the idea that somehow voter fraud was a problem. One day of voting — implying that there was some risk in counting mail-in ballots. Requiring voter ID — suggesting that in-person fraud is a significant problem, which it isn’t. Even as he denied that there was anything suspect about the actual votes, he had to parrot the proposals his party has offered, proposals that are centered on fraud. He’s saying that he sees no evidence of poltergeists but assures voters that, if elected, he’ll invest heavily in the Ghostbusters.
So, no, Blake Masters no longer says “I think Trump won in 2020,” as he did when the voting population was Republicans. Now he says, “I suspect President Trump would be in the White House today if Big Tech and Big Media and the FBI didn’t work together to put the thumb on the scale to get Joe Biden in there.”
In both cases, he has no credible evidence to bolster his assertion. But the latter, at least, has the benefit of vagueness, of not having been disproven 280,000 times in the past two years.